Soy bean is a legume native to East Asia but can be grown in most warm climates. Only 45% of all soy is grown in this region. The rest is grown in the US, Brazil, Ar-gentina and other parts of the world. There have been reports that areas of the rainforest in Brazil have been cleared for soy plantations.
As well as being a biodiesel feedstock, soya is a major food crop used to make tofu, soya milk and animal feed. The main animal feed sold worldwide is soya meal. Sales of soya meal alone probably would not make economic sense for manufacturers because the price of soya beans is currently higher than soya meal. This is also an incentive for local manufacturing of soy bean oil.
Like palm oil, biodiesel from soy beans will also not meet the 2010 EU sustainability criteria for transport fuels. Unless soy feedstocks are mixed with other feedstocks, sales of biodiesel derived from soy bean may be down over the next few years.
Soy bean prices in the US are projected to fall from an average of US $9.53 per bushel (US $373.58 per tonne) for the 2009/2010 crop year to US $9.10 per bushel (US $356.72 per tonne) for the 2010/2011 crop year. This is should result in a fall in biodiesel prices, providing subsidies for biodiesel remains the same or increase. Overall global soybean production is expected to be up 1.4 million tons.
Rapeseed grows across Europe, the US, Australia, India and Canada; in Canada a hybrid variety is grown called Canola. The plant is grown for animal feed, vegetable oil for human consumption, a fertiliser and as a feedstock for biodiesel. It is the number two animal feed feedstock worldwide, behind soy. If production of either rapeseed or soy beans declines, second generation feedstocks may become major sources of animal feed.
The advantages of rapeseed are its natural oil content, 50%, which can be increased via hybridisation. It is also a winter cover crop and thus can be used as fodder for livestock over the winter months. There have been concerns over the use of rape seed as a biodiesel feedstock because of the high levels of fertiliser being used in the growing process.
Of all of the feedstocks for biodiesel, palm oil is the cheapest then soy bean then rapeseed. Although some of the prices quoted below may be more for non-biofuel applications.